Government

Buttigieg wants to negotiate lower prescription drug prices; plan includes threat of patent seizure

Democratic 2020 U.S. presidential candidate Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Ind., looks out to the audience during a campaign stop July 12 in Dover, N.H. Reuters/Brian Snyder
Democratic 2020 U.S. presidential candidate Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Ind., looks out to the audience during a campaign stop July 12 in Dover, N.H. Reuters/Brian Snyder

Pete Buttigieg released an “Affordable Medicine for All” plan that the 2020 Democratic presidential hopeful says will protect Americans from the rising cost of prescription drugs whether they are on federal programs, a public option or private insurance.

Politicians, the South Bend, Ind., mayor said, too often have stood with “Big Pharma” drugmakers by refusing to allow the government to negotiate prescription drug prices for seniors.

Although Buttigieg believes the public option he’s proposing in his Medicare for All Who Want It plan will be more attractive to Americans than private insurance, he’s not interested in forcing people into his plan.

“I think there’s an arrogance in saying that we’re going to fix it in Washington, and you’re going to like it,” Buttigieg said Monday during a phone call from South Bend. “To me, this challenges the private actors by saying we’re going to put forward an alternative that may very well put you out of business. We think we’ve got the best approach here, but if somebody can come up with something better, great. The important principle is to have everybody get covered, whether it’s public or private.”

The current system of letting drugmakers set their prices and not allowing government programs, such as Medicare, negotiate for better prices isn’t working, according to Buttigieg.

Americans spend more than $1,200 on prescription drugs per person per year — more than double what the British, Norwegians and Italians pay, his campaign said. Three in 10 Americans skip doses or forgo filling prescriptions because of costs.

According to his campaign, pharmaceutical companies are the most profitable companies in the health care sector. In the first six months of 2019, pharmaceutical companies increased prices for 3,400 drugs, and for those drugs, the average increase was 10.5 percent, five times the rate of inflation. More than 40 drugs had price hikes greater than 100 percent.

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Buttigieg’s plan would cap out-of-pocket prescription drug expenses for Medicare participants at $200 a month and less than $250 a month for people on his public option.

The federal government would be allowed to negotiate drug prices, and those savings would be available to people on private insurance plans.

“That’s important in a vision where you think the private sector is not going away because so many Americans are on these private plans but still paying way too much for prescription drugs,” Buttigieg said.

To get pharmaceutical companies to cooperate, Buttigieg would exercise “eminent domain” to take away patents from what he calls the worst offenders that refuse to make drugs more affordable and penalize companies that raise prices by more than inflation.

“I would hope seizing patents never has to be done, that it’s last resort,” Buttigieg said. “But there needs to be an understanding that we are serious. There has to be a backstop that is tough enough to compel (pharmaceutical companies) to respond.”

His plan also would increase transparency, eliminate the copay for high-quality generic drugs and reduce out-of-pocket spending for people on Medicare Part D.

The best part of his plan, Buttigieg said, may be that it’s neutral when it comes to where people get their health care insurance.

“I think there is a very good chance that our plan will lead to Medicare for all, but that only happens if it is the best plan,” he said. “If more people choose our plan over time, if it is the best plan and no private, corporate option can compete, then everyone finds their way to ours.

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“If, on the other hand, it’s not, we’re going to be glad we didn’t force people on to the public option.

“We’re going to let American people decide what works the best for them,” Buttigieg said.

To see his plan, visit https://peteforamerica.com/policies/affordable-medicine/.

Comments: (319) 398-8375; james.lynch@thegazette.com

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